- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

The Hamas victory, the result of democratically held elections among Palestinians, has dangerous regional implications. A sustained Palestinian government controlled by Hamas — even if it successfully restrains terror — can offer little but devastating consequences.

Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a different scenario: Suspension of military confrontation with Israel provides the terror organizations a golden opportunity to amass additional and more sophisticated weapons for the next armed confrontation. A whole generation of Palestinian youth will be indoctrinated with lessons on the annihilation of the State of Israel. Global Jihad forces, such as al Qaeda, will reinforce their bases in the territories and prepare the ground for spectacular terror attacks inside Israel. Finally, if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is transformed from a national struggle to a religious confrontation, it will have no solution and no end, and therefore, the hope for normal existence in the State of Israel will be lost.

As bleak as that picture is, clearly not only Israel will be affected by Hamas assuming control of government. Others also have a strong interest in working to unseat Hamas rule.

Moderate Arab governments do not want to see this development, whereby the Muslim Brotherhood is democratically brought to power, serve as any precedent in their own countries. The U.S. government is not anxious for the Hamas government in Ramallah to become the model for democratization in the Middle East. The international community is not encouraged by the idea of an Islamic state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with no foreseeable solution to the conflict with Israel.

And Fatah and other secular Palestinians parties (that won, in the final count, 55 percent of the vote) know if Hamas is solidly anchored in government it will end the dream of a modern secular, independent Palestinian state.

Only a common strategy coordinated among all these entities will be able to remove Hamas from government. It is important to remember lack of a joint strategy of this kind allowed Hamas to gain power in the first place.

What should each party do? The international community, the United States, the European Union and the Gulf States should channel support and investments to projects in the territories strictly through economic institutions that directly report to the president, Abu Mazen. One such institution with which donor countries are familiar is the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), that reports not to the Palestinian authority state but to the Palestine Liberation Organization and to the president. Assistance should be granted based solely on good management, accountability and full transparency.

The international community and moderate Arab states must avoid any assistance to or dialogue with the Hamas government. Whoever understands the deep religious roots that dictate Hamas’ view of Israel knows there is no chance for real change in the movement’s positions. The Palestinian people will have to see for themselves that the Hamas doctrine precludes not only responsibly running state affairs but also the chance for peace.

The newly elected government of Israel needs to re-engage in the process of peacemaking by negotiating with President Abbas (Abu Mazen) on a new road map leading to the end of conflict. This road map, incorporating changes since the first Road Map was drafted, should be based on a realistic timetable.

Since it is only within the authority of the PLO and its president to carry out negotiations of this kind — and not the Hamas-led government — such negotiations, even if not made final, can provide an impetus for new Palestinian elections. This time, the secular parties will be better prepared.

With these actions, two roads can be paved to bypass Hamas: a diplomatic and an economic route. The moderate factions in the Palestinian society will be able to introduce, in a reasonable time, a new and promising political horizon and economic perspective that Hamas can never present on its own.

It takes courage to overcome the hesitation and inhibitions all sides might have about such a necessary partnership between Israel, the international community and secular Palestinian forces. But without this, there can be no hope of ousting the Hamas government before it brings the bloodshed of Fallujah and Samara to the gates of Jerusalem.

Ephraim Sneh, a retired Israeli general who was military governor of the West Bank, is chairman of the Labor Party faction in the Knesset and the Subcommittee on Defense Planning and Policy.

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